Ole Miss is 6-8 since defeating Southern Miss on March 2, and the Rebels' slide is continuing after a 2-3 week where Florida took an SEC series in Oxford, and Central Arkansas captured a midweek tilt. Right now, there are plenty of questions, even more opinions and very few definitive answers concerning the Diamond Rebs.
The team argues it isn't the case, but I believe Ole Miss is lacking confidence at the plate, and that inability is affecting the defensive phase of the game. The offense is frustratingly inconsistent and largely ineffective. The Rebels have scored a combined three runs in the last three Sunday match-ups and nonconference games are now adventures due to the inability to string multiple-run innings together against suspect pitching.
Coach Mike Bianco admitted yesterday that "it didn't matter who was pitching for the other teams." Ole Miss looks lost at the plate and unsure of the plan when stepping into the box. Failing to string hits happens in baseball, but the lack of quality at-bats is extremely startling. Moving runners, laying down bunts and stealing bases are all ways to snap out of a hitting funk. The Rebels are failing to move runners or lay down bunts. And because of defensive woes mostly, they have been constantly playing from behind, so running like earlier in the season isn't in the plan.
Look at these numbers from the week. They are a microcosm of the situation since Ole Miss was 9-0 once upon a time.
Ole Miss was 2-3 on the week as stated above and scored 26 runs to the opponents' 29. A close margin, but the Rebels led in most offensive categories. batting average: .291, opponents .281; home runs: 5, opponents 4; hits 52, opponents 50; doubles 10, opponents 7; total bases 77, opponents 69; walks: 16, opponents 14; HBP: 6, opponents 3.
Errors or a lack of being clutch are the first things to come to mind as to a conclusion to explain the situation, but Ole Miss made just one more error than its competition. And personally I believe that clutch isn't a true measure of anything. Some teams have a knack for getting the big hit during a momentum-filled stretch, but it balances over time relative to ability. The Rebels were in fact "clutch" Friday, or the situation would be worse. The one word that keeps coming to mind is inconsistency. The Rebels are the true definition.
Ole Miss hit into six double plays in the five games and only stole 2 bases in three attempts. Opponents were erased in pairs three times but stole five bases in nine tries. Florida is a great base-running team, but the Rebels should be taking off at a higher clip, even with Jordan Henry struggling to reach base.
The Gators offered a blueprint that Ole Miss would be wise to follow to some degree. Florida isn't flashy, but it doesn't beat itself either. New coach Kevin O'Sullivan puts pressure on the opponent with lots of steal chances and many hit and runs. The Gators aren't more talented, but they played better baseball.
The Rebels are too station-to-station and seem to always be waiting for the three-run home run and the big inning. That can and has been disastrous during the pop-up filled slump.
Below average to average pitching is beating Ole Miss with early-count offspeed pitches and being effectively wild. The Rebels are taught to be aggressive early in the count, but plate discipline isn't currently a strong point. Opponents are peppering the edges of the plate and extending that out of the zone, but Ole Miss is hacking away early and digging a hole that makes it more difficult to produce a quality at-bat.
All of the above has been detrimental to the success expected of a highly-regarded program, but the good part is that it is correctable. Confidence and mindset must improve, and the rest will fall into place because the talent is there. It is my opinion, most of the lineup expects negative things to occur right now. Bianco and his staff's biggest coaching job currently is to restore the swagger and ease the stressful tension.
After that, it is about having fun and playing loose. Ole Miss can thrive if that happens, but the skid will continue to snowball if confidence isn't restored.
Thoughts and Tidbits
Lance Lynn and Scott Bittle have been unbelievably dominant, and the rest of the staff has been serviceable. Not great but serviceable. It just doesn't seem that way sometimes because the pitching has to basically be perfect due to the other areas struggling. With errors all over the infield and an army of runners being left on base, every single mistake by the pitchers is magnified because it may be the back-breaker that is too much to overcome. As the offense and defense improve, the pitching will be all right as well. Ole Miss had a 4.30 ERA for the week, and although not eye-popping, not terrible for college baseball.
Speaking of pitching, Bianco said that the rotation would most likely differ against Alabama this weekend. Lynn isn't going anywhere of course, but Cody Satterwhite or Nathan Baker could lose their slots. Bianco didn't say which one, but a case could be made either. I'll play devil's advocate. Satterwhite is failing to locate his offspeed, and opponents are sitting dead-red on his plus-fastball that flattens out on occasion. The tools are obviously there, but at some point, expectations give way to results. Satterwhite will be a main cog if the Rebels are going to break into the CWS, but maybe it isn't in a starting weekend role. The junior closed for Team USA last summer, so that assignment might work this time around. Also, a current set-up man would replace him, so it could just be a switch. If he is moved out of Saturday or not, Satterwhite needs to figure it out quickly. He is too talented and too important to be just a little better than mediocre. Baker has received no run support and very little help defensively, but his ERA and 1-3 record lends itself to being in the conversation regarding a change. The left-hander does an admirable job on Sundays by keeping the team in games, but when things begin to unravel, Baker tends to get bit on a bad pitch. Yesterday, it was the three-run homer that pushed the lead to six. The sophomore could be productive out of the pen or be used to stabilize the midweek rotation, especially with Brett Bukvich still battling injury. Baker would be an available southpaw that is a change of pace.
If a change occurs, Bittle, Rory McKean and Drew Pomeranz have all played their way into possibilities. Each has been exceptional out of the bullpen, and that is where it won't be a complete loss for Baker or Satterwhite. A major need will need to be filled if one of those three takes over a starting spot. There are drawbacks to losing the reliable arms on the back-end, but it couldn't hurt to give it a shot. Last weekend, Bittle nor Pomeranz threw an inning that mattered. That doesn't need to happen often.
The offense goes as Jordan Henry goes most of the time. The reigning SEC Freshman of the Year has struggled for a few weeks now and hit a lowly .118 over the last five games thanks to a 2-17 stretch. It may be time to take some pressure off Henry and move him to the bottom of the order. Tim Ferguson may be the next best option in the leadoff spot, although he is inexperienced and hit just .211 on the week.
As for Ferguson, he started all five games at shortstop this week with Evan Button injured and Sean Stuyverson struggling. The freshman made two errors in 18 chances but also showed the ability to be the answer at that position. His arm is good enough, and his range will improve with more time on the field. Button will be back in the running when healthy, but this is a prime opportunity for Ferguson to establish himself. His flashes prove that it it's possible.
It was another solid week for Brett Basham. The catcher threw out four-of-nine runners attempting to steal and also two others that tried to advance on wild pitches. Offensively, Basham hit .313 and had only one strikeout in 16 at-bats. Kyle Henson will return next week against Memphis, but Basham has cemented himself as the top catcher and one of the best in the SEC.
Cullan Kight was two-for-three in limited action this week, but playing time is difficult to find for the sophomore because of his position. First baseman Matt Smith has rebounded from his slump and hit a team-best .500 in the past five games with six RBI and three home runs. Kight is also a left-handed possibility at DH, but Fuller Smith is still raking and gets the upper-hand as a vocal senior captain.
Cody Overbeck's hitting streak now sits at 23 games, and the junior is doing an exemplary job at third base. Overbeck's strikeout numbers remain down, and he and Logan Power have been consistent punches during this offensive freefall. Power jumpstarted the Friday comeback and is Ole Miss' most complete position player.
S. Carolina 4-2
Ole Miss 3-3
Miss. State 1-5
Monday Morning Notes: How to bust a slump?
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